A powerful solar eruption is blasting by Earth on Tuesday and will continue through Wednesday — the strongest such storm since 2005. The flare was originally spewed from an increasingly active sunspot on the sun's surface — and with it, potentially harmful radiation. How strong is this storm? Here's what you should know:
What is a solar flare?
It's a burst of high-energy particles emanating directly from the sun's surface, says the Associated Press. The explosion releases radiation and plasma from the sun itself. That plasma then travels several million miles per hour. At those speeds, it doesn't take long for solar storms to travel the 93 million miles between the Earth and sun.
Are solar flares dangerous?
They can certainly cause problems here on Earth, including communication issues for airplanes, satellite disruptions, and even electrical grid outages. In 1989, for instance, a powerful solar flare caused a "massive blackout" throughout Quebec. One bright side for skygazers is that solar storms can also pull the shimmery northern lights further south than usual, as evidenced by "freak" auroras spotted as far south as Alabama during a storm last October.
How powerful is this storm?
It's the "strongest solar storm since 2005," says the AP. This event is ranked at a level that can typically "impact high-frequency communications and can cause electronic errors in spacecraft," says Martin LaMonica at CNET. Thankfully, the AP notes, "the worst of the storm is likely to go north of Earth."
Are we in danger?
Probably not. NASA says the six astronauts onboard the International Space Station should be safe. "The flight surgeons have reviewed the space weather forecasts for the flare and determined that there are no expected adverse effects or actions required to protect the on-orbit crew," a spokesman tells Space.com. As a precaution, however, flights are being diverted from around the poles.